BOOKS: Heaven and Earth and I

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2003:

Heaven and Earth and I:  Ethics of Nature Conservation in Asia
Edited by Vivek Menon & Masayuki Sakamoto
Penguin Enterprise (c/o Penguin Putnam Inc.,  375 Hudson St.,  New
York,  NY  10014),  2002.
Published in association with the Wildlife Trust of India,
International Fund for Animal Welfare,  and Asian Conservation
223 pages,  paperback.  No U.S. price listed.

Eighteen essayists contribute to Heaven and Earth and I,
including the Dalai Lama,  Queen Noor of Jordan,  the Prince
Sadruddin Aga Khan,  Maneka Gandhi,  and King Gyanendra Bir Bikram
Dev of Nepal–but the famous names discuss the ethics of nature
conservation only in broad and general terms,  for the most part,
with only People for Animals founder Mrs. Gandhi having much to say
about animals.

The more memorable offerings come from Sri Lankan elephant
conservationist Jawantha Jayewardene and five relatively obscure
Islamic scholars from three different nations,  all of whom hold that
the humane treatment of animals is ordained by their religions,
whether the teachings are obeyed or not,  and seem to view respect
for animal welfare as fundamental to successful environmentalism.
Jayewardene in “The Rediscovery of Ahimsa:  Sri Lanka’s
Conservation Philosophy through the Ages,”  recalls that the King
Devanampiyatissa was in 247 B.C. interrupted during a deer hunt by
Arahat Mahinda,  son of the Indian emperor Asoka the Great,  who had
introduced the first Indian animal protection law and sent emissaries
to spread Buddhism,  including humane teachings,  throughout southern
“Arahat Mahinda stopped King Devanampiyatissa from killing
the deer and told the king that every living creature has an equal
right to live,”  writes Jawardene.
Persuaded,  the king became a Buddhist and “decreed that no
one should kill or harm any living being,”  Jayewardene continues.
“He set apart a large area around his palace as a sanctuary that gave
protection to all fauna and flora.  This was called Mahamevuna Uyana,
and is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world.”
The next five kings,  according to Jayewardene,  “completely
prohibited the killing of any animal within the kingdom.  Following
this,  the killing of animals and the consumption of meat were
greatly minimized.  There is also historical evidence,”  Jayewardene
adds,  “that a number of kings,  in extending their practice of
ahimsa,  established places where sick and injured animals could be
treated.  King Buddhadstra in 341 A.D. went to the extent of becoming
a reputed veterinary surgeon.  In the 12th century King Nissanka
Malla issued a decree,  as seen in a stone inscription in the city of
Anuradhapura even today,  which broadly reads:  ‘It is ordered,  by
beat of the drum,  that no animals should be killed within a radius
of seven gau from the city.'”
Beginning in the 16th century,  European colonization
gradually eroded the Buddhist tradition,  including the teachings
about animal protection.  British trophy hunters were especially
ruthless,  Jayewardene recalls.  To control their own excesses,  lest
they extirpate all possible targets,  the British introduced the
first modern Sri Lankan wildlife conservation law in 1862,
reinforced in 1872, 1894,  and 1909,  and created the first modern
Sri Lankan wildlife refuge in 1885.
The British conservation act of 1862 may have come in
response to the Buddhist formation that same year of the Animals
Non-Violence Society, the first modern Sri Lankan humane
organization.  The first Sri Lankan anti-cruelty law was not adopted
until 1907,  however,  and it has only been amended once since,
Jayawardine laments,  in 1955.
While the Buddhist humane tradition is generally known but
often ignored,  the Islamic humane tradition is almost entirely
obscure even among Islamic scholars.
This should not be,  argues Jasmi Bin Abdul in “an Islamic
Viewpoint from Malysia.”
Writes Bin Abdul,  “The care and love of wild animals has
been emphasized both in the Qur’an as well as in Sunna,  the
traditions of the Prophet.  In verse 54:28,  there is a reference to
Allah insisting that the people of Tamud share the water with their
camels.  In the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad,  we see many instances to
show that He advocated kindness toward animals.  Two examples would
suffice here.  According to one tradition,  Allah punished a woman
because she imprisoned a cat until the cat died of hunger.  The
Prophet also tells us that a prostitute’s sins were forgiven because
she gave water to a thirsty dog,”  a story which if better known
would suggest that women subject to the Islamic fundamentalist law of
Sharia should be spared if they have been kind to the street dogs who
are much feared and despised in many Islamic nations.
“In Islam,  it is also not permitted to disturb nesting birds
or separate the young from their parents,”   Bin Abdul states.  “The
Prophet once saw His believers carrying a young bird and He promptly
ordered them to return the little bird back to his mother.”
The same stories are recited in slightly different form,  but
similar context,  by Zuhair S. Amr and Mahdi Quatrameez in “Wildlife
Conservation in Jordan:  A Cultural and Islamic Perspective.”
Add Mohammed Anwarul Islam and Zinat Mahrkh Banu in “Lessons
for Bangladesh,”  “Neither hunting nor slaughter of domestic animals
is prohibited in Islam.  However,  there are restrictions that take
animal welfare into account.  Hunting is forbidden during the months
of pilgrimage (Qur’an 5:95),  and so also is hunting for mere sport.
There are restrictions even in the case of animals slaughtered for
human consumption.  To minimize pain,  a Muslim has to make sure his
knife is sharp enough before the slaughter.  Charity,  according to
Islam,  is not only feeding and helping people,  but also planting
trees for the benefit of animals.  Says Prophet Muhammad in a Hadith:
‘If anyone plants a tree or sows a field,  and man,  beasts,  and
birds eat from it,  he should consider it a charity on his part.'”
Environmentalism and humane concerns have largely gone
separate ways in Europe and North America during the past
century-plus,  primarily because of the influence of the well-funded
hunter/conservationist lobby.  The World Wildlife Fund and Safari
Club International,  among other multinational hunter/conservationist
organizations, have seen to it that hunter/conservationism is the
dominant ecological perspective in overseas policymaking,  as well.
But that could change,  as  underdeveloped nations mature
economically and politically,  recognize the multinational advocacy
groups as vestiges of colonialism,  and form their own environmental
institutions.  Amid the transition,  the Buddhist and Islamic
teachings brought forward in Heaven and Earth and I may emerge as
central to the ecological philosophy of the post-development Asia.

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